WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump continued to back off his campaign pledge to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem in an interview aired Monday, saying the move was “not easy” and giving it no more than “a chance” of occurring.
Trump’s repeatedly promised to move the embassy from Tel Aviv while on the campaign trail, but since taking the White House his administration has downplayed the chances of the relocation taking place.
While not committing to follow through on his pledge, the president didn’t rule it out, but recognized complicating factors that have made him think twice before initiating a policy a number of his predecessors deemed too explosive, including that there are “two sides” to the conflict.
Asked if he was “committed” to moving the embassy to Jerusalem, Trump said: “Well, I’m looking at it… We’re studying it very, very long and hard. You know it’s a very big decision, because every president for the last number of presidents, large number, they’ve come in and they were going to do it and then all of a sudden they decide they don’t want to get involved. It’s a big big decision…”
“I’ve always liked the concept of doing it,” he told the Christian Broadcasting Network. “I will tell you that. I’ll have a decision in the not too distant future.”
Asked if the chances were good, he replied: “Well, there’s certainly a chance of it, absolutely. But we’re doing very detailed studies on that and we’ll come out very soon. I hate to do that because that’s not usually me: studies. It’s usually, I do what’s right. But this has two sides to it. Not easy.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said later Monday that US Vice President Mike Spence discussed the embassy issue with Jordan’s visiting King Abdullah and “welcomes the king’s views.” Pence “reiterated that the US is at the early stages of the decision making process.”
Earlier this month, the Jordanian government warned of “catastrophic” repercussions if Trump moved the embassy.
The CBN interview took place on Friday, two days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rebuffed claims from a senior Republican activist in Israel that Jerusalem was holding up the move.
“The position of Israel has been, and always will be, that the US Embassy should be here, in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said at his cabinet meeting on Sunday. “It’s appropriate that all the other embassies should move to Jerusalem as well.”
On Thursday, Trump told Sean Hannity last week it was “too early” to discuss the move, but he told the CBN that it was being studied.
“There’s certainly a chance of it, absolutely,” he said. “But we’re doing very detailed studies on that and we’ll come out very soon. I hate to do that, because that’s not usually me — studies. It’s usually I do what’s right. But this has two sides to it, it’s not easy, and I’ll make a decision over the not-too-distant future.”
Calling the decision “big” several times, Trump noted that other presidents had also made the pledge while on the campaign trail and failed to follow through.
In 1995, Congress adopted a resolution, led by former House speaker and current Trump confidant Newt Gingrich, that called on the president to move the embassy. But each commander in chief since then has repeatedly used his prerogative to delay implementation of that demand.
The current waiver expires in May 2017, when Trump will have the opportunity to allow the relocation or further deny the move.
Each president since the Oslo process, including Barack Obama, has maintained that the future status of Jerusalem should be settled in final negotiations between the parties, as both Israelis and Palestinians claim the holy city as their rightful capital.
But since his stunning election victory, Trump has sent multiple signals that he intends to upend the policy that has been a staple of Democrat and Republican administrations for decades.
In December, he nominated longtime friend and attorney David Friedman to be the next US ambassador to Israel. In the announcement, Friedman, a vocal supporter and donor to West Bank settlements, said he expected to carry out his duties in “Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
In his final press conference as president, Obama warned his successor against instituting his plan without sufficiently considering the potential repercussions.
“The actions we take have enormous consequences and ramifications,” he said when asked about Trump’s stated goal of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s sovereign capital. “We’re the biggest kid on the block.”
“If you’re going to make big shifts in policy, just make sure you’ve thought it through and understand that there are going to be consequences,” he added.
Palestinians and other Arab and Western leaders have also warned Trump against the move, predicting that it could have diplomatic repercussions as well as lead to possible violence.